Recycling VS Composting; What Are The Differences?

Recycling VS Composting; What Are The Differences?

We live in a world where natural resources are dwindling and environmental pollution is on the rise. Even as children we are told to be sure to recycle whenever we can. Schools even go so far as to host recycling drives to encourage kids to play their part in helping to protect the planet and reduce consumption of the limited precious resources we have.

As adults, we increasingly see more and more people talking not only about recycling to help the environment, but also about composting.

Recycling and composting are both environmentally-savvy practices that help keep waste and other materials out of landfills.

They help us as individuals to minimize our own impact on the environment, reducing our overall footprint and hopefully helping to create a better world for future generations.

However, oftentimes the terms “recycling” and “composting” are used interchangeably, depending on who you ask.

Let’s Start Recycling VS Composting Dibate

All of this talk of recycling and composting may leave you asking the question “Recycling VS Composting: What is the difference?”

This article will help to give you further information on both recycling and composting, illustrating to you exactly what recycling entails, as well as explaining how to dispose of yard waste properly by composting.

What is Recycling?

What is composting?

To answer this question, I turned directly to the recycling experts. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recycling is the process of collecting materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash. These materials are collected and processed in ways that turn them into new products, benefitting the entire community and the environment.

What Should I Recycle?

While there are a lot of materials that can be recycled and made into new products, not everything is able to be. The most common items that can be recycled are:

  • Metal, especially from aluminum, steel, or tin goods;
  • Paper and cardboard;
  • Glass;
  • Plastic;
  • Batteries and lightbulbs; and
  • Electronics

I advise you to remember, however, that goods such as batteries and electronics may require special handling and may need to go to specialized recycling destinations.

Benefits of Recycling:

Recycling is extremely beneficial to protecting the overall health of the planet and the communities we live in. Recycling is especially beneficial because it reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. It also helps to prevent pollution, and conserves natural resources such as wood, water, and minerals by allowing these things to be reused multiple times.

I personally think that an added benefit of recycling is the pride it gives us in our communities. If we work together to keep our spaces clean and free of pollution, trash, and other discarded items we can all create spaces we are proud of.

Disadvantages of Recycling:

While the benefits of recycling largely outweigh the downsides, there are a few disadvantages I need to point out. Recycling has a high upfront cost and is not always cost-effective. It involves resources to build the facilities to sort recycled goods, as well as the budgets to pay the workers who will need to do these jobs.

Some critics of recycling like to point out that the new products made from recycled materials are not always of the same quality that products made from traditional materials are. There is not necessarily a guarantee that recycling will produce products that are worth the time and effort.

Is Recycling Better than Composting?

1. Recycling is convenient for the average person. 

Generally speaking, the most effort recycling requires of the average person is that they are expected to leave the items they wish to recycle in a bin at their curb.

Beyond that, recycling involves very minimal effort for the average person. Composting, on the other hand, often requires tremendous effort from anyone who wishes to do it.

2. Recycling is much quicker. 

When comparing Recycling VS Composting, it generally takes a much longer time before composted items are broken down enough to use.

Recycling, on the other hand, is a relatively quick process once items have been sorted and sent on to the manufacturing facilities that will turn them into new goods.

3. Recycling creates jobs. 

In order for materials to be recycled, workers are needed to collect the recycled goods at peoples’ homes and at drop-off centers. Workers are also needed to help sort these items in recycling facilities, before they are then sent on to manufacturing plants where – you guessed it – more workers are needed to process the goods to make new products.

In short, recycling helps to boost the economy and put more people to work.

What is Composting?

What is composting?

Again, I turn to the experts to help answer this question. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), composting is the process of recycling organic materials which decompose to create nutrient rich fertilizers to aid in the growth of new plants.

Composting natural resources such as leaves and food scraps provides an excellent environment for helpful bacteria, fungi, and other organisms to live and thrive.

What should I compost?

Generally speaking, most organic materials can be composted. This includes:

  • scraps of fruits and vegetables;
  • egg shells;
  • nut shells;
  • coffee grounds;
  • tea bags;
  • paper or cardboard;
  • yard trimmings and leaves;
  • hay or straw;
  • sawdust or wood chips;
  • fireplace ashes;
  • or even hair and fur.

However, composters should take special care not to compost certain organic materials, such as coal, dairy products, fat or oils, meat, or pet waste.

Benefits of Composting:

If you are thinking about a comparison of Recycling VS Composting, there are a number of reasons why composting is recommended. For starters, it is an excellent way to get rid of organic waste and food scraps produced at the home – especially since these things are not generally allowed in traditional recycling.

Furthermore, composting helps reduce food waste by repurposing leftover food into something that is useful. The rich soils created by composting are excellent for helping to ensure that new, healthy crops are available for ongoing food supplies.

Disadvantages of Composting:

Composting requires access to an outdoor space where you can allow the organic waste you produce to naturally breakdown. As such, people who live in areas where they have little or no outdoor areas may find it hard to compost.

Additionally, some forms of composting require ongoing maintenance by whoever is tending them. Often times you must pay special attention to the ratio of compost ingredients, the amount of air reaching the bottom of the compost pile, and moisture levels.

Failure to do so can cause problems, killing off beneficial life forms and possibly even posing a fire hazard in extreme situations. It is therefore a much more time and labor intensive process than recycling.

Is Composting a Type of Recycling?

Technically, yes. Composting is a type of recycling. However the term “recycling” is generally used to discuss the repurposing of man-made items such as plastic, aluminum cans, or paper.

On the other hand, composting specifically refers to the repurposing of organic materials such as leaves and plants by allowing them to break down into nutritious soil.

Why is Composting Better than Recycling?

1. Compost costs less to process. 

As stated before, recycling requires specialized facilities and workers to process the products. Composting by comparison is done on the individual level, and rarely requires any specialized tools.

2. Composting increases biodiversity. 

Composted soil provides an excellent home to beneficial bacteria and fungi that help produce nutrient-filled soils. This biodiversity is essential for maintaining an healthy environment.

3. Composting can be done in your own backyard. 

Composting can be done gradually by adding any organic waste produced in your home to a compost pile in your own yard. This means that the soils produced are also available to enrich your yard’s plants and flowers.

4. Composting creates nutrient-rich soils. 

As organic waste breaks down, the end result is nutrient-rich soil that acts as a natural and organic fertilizer for your plants. This helps eliminate the need for harsh chemical fertilizers.

5. Composting produces a high quality output. 

Of all the soils available to purchase from your local gardening store, home composted soil is by far the highest quality soil available. By producing it at home, you guarantee you have an endless supply of this quality earth.

6. Composting can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

By preventing your organic waste from ending up in a landfill, composting helps to reduce overall methane emissions and lowers your carbon footprint. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to global warming.


At the end of the day, the question of what the differences are between Recycling VS Composting is an important one, and worth spending some time to explore.

I personally feel that the best impact is seen from combining both practices – being sure to recycle any man-made goods while also adding your organic waste to a home compost pile. 

Regardless, I hope that the answers here helped you to finally answer the question of recycling versus composting: What is the difference?

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